Whether you've got a last-minute work trip to sort out or you're just trying to make the family holiday budget come right, getting a roof over your head is often the most expensive part of the exercise. It's undeniable that the advent of the Internet has made it easier than ever to locate accommodation no matter where you're travelling, but getting a decent deal requires more than just typing "place name hotel" into Google and clicking on the first link that comes up. Read on for some basic, practical ideas on how to get the most for your travel dollar without suffering from a room like the one in the video above. I'm on the road for work incessantly, and while some of those trips come with the accommodation already organised, the majority don't, and tracking down a cheap but workable room is always a priority. I've focused on hotels here because of my emphasis on work trips; realistically, you don't want to be keeping your laptop in a hostel. But even if you're happy sharing a dorm room, most of the same principles apply.
It's a tough fact of life: saving money takes time. If you want to get the best deal for your cash, you'll need to check with as many providers as possible. Sites in Australia that will help you locate a hotel room include Wotif, Hotelclub, Quickbeds, lotsofhotels.com.au and Check-In— and if you want to score a bargain, you'll want to check them all. (There's probably options I've missed from that list; use the comments if you want to suggest others. We'll visit the topic of overseas room providers another time.)
Double-check with the hotel's own site
Once you've located a likely prospect, try and locate the hotel's own site to ensure you're getting the best deal. While it's not infallible, hotels (especially in larger chains) rarely want to be undercut by aggregators, and you may find a better option with some simple Google searches. (With that said, locating official sites can be tricky, since search engine optimisation means that results are often heavily skewed towards online booking services. Use
-site:annoyingsite.com to strip offenders out of your results.)
Get in early
I know it's conventional wisdom to assume that waiting until just before a trip and booking online will score you a bargain, as hotels try to dispose of rooms that are unbooked at discounted rates. But over many years of Net-enabled travelling, I've found that while there might occasionally be a good last-minute bargain where I need to be, that's rarely better than the deal I would have scored if I'd booked my accommodation weeks or months in advance. That's doubly so if you're in town for a major event or during a peak period like school holidays. Bottom line: if you know you need to go, book early — you'll save cash as well as stress.
Focus on total cost of area
While the up-front room cost is your main consideration, you need to take a broader view for maximum savings. A hotel room that's $30 cheaper isn't going to work out to be such a good deal if you spend more than that every day on taxis just to get there and back. Nor is a motel room going to look like such a good deal if the only eating place for miles in the motel itself (cue $20 or more for breakfast — no thanks!). Spending a little more to stay closer to where you need to work, or where cheap food abounds, might ultimately prove a better bet.
Of course, that kind of knowledge is a lot easier to develop after you've visited somewhere once, but it still bears thinking about before you make that booking. And don't forget Google Street View — a quick tour around the neighbourhood will let you know what the cheap eating options are, and can alert you to bus stops and train stations if you're not hiring a car.
But that's enough from me; over to you. Which resources do you find most useful for getting cheap accommodation? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman has a number of criteria for a good hotel besides Wi-Fi and a nearby cafe, including whether there's a proper functioning plug in the sink (you'd be surprised). His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.